Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fixing the System

So I finally watched the Vice Special Report, "Fixing The System" last night. Even though I didn't really learn anything new (I was already keenly aware of how incredibly unjust our "justice" system is), it was utterly heartbreaking to watch nonetheless. My husband had not heard the "1 in 3" stat of how many black men will end up in jail over the course of their lives, and he kept saying "1 in 3!! Jesus Christ!!" at multiple points while we were watching it. I've never felt my own privilege more keenly in my life.

Two things really disappointed me about the film though:

(1) Absolutely NO discussion of the for-profit prison model that is a huge contributing factor to how many people we jail in this country.

(2) President Obama seemed to talk more about communities of color "fixing" their communities, rather than the government actually taking action to fix the incredibly unfair systems (like the failed "war on drugs") that are in place that lead directly to this travesty of justice.

In any case, it's a must watch for everyone in America.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Luckily for my avid readers, I just finished watching the shitshow of a "hearing" to de-fund Planned Parenthood, so you don't have to. I watched the first one on Sept 9th, which was similarly horrible, but the McCarthy-esque witch hunt against Cecile Richards last Tuesday was an absolute travesty beyond words. 

So, without further adieu, here is my summarized transcript of the entire hearing.

Generic Republican 1: "Thanks for coming Ms. Richards. You suck and we all hate you more than you can possibly imagine."

Cecile Richards: "No problem. I love to spend my time answering stupid questions from stupid people."

G.R.1.: "Are you aware that Planned Parenthood SELLS BABY PARTS???!!!!!"

C.R.: "No, actually we don't."

G.R.1.: "Yes you do!! I saw it on a video!!"

C.R.: "Again, no we don't."

G.R.1.: "Okay, then how about you tell me how much profit you make MURDERING INNOCENT BABIES!!"

C.R.: "We're a non-profit organization. We don't make a 'profit' on anything."

G.R.1.: "Yeah right. I'm a Republican so I know how business works. You're making a profit on abortion, and it's huge."

C.R.: "We're not a business, we're a nonprofit organization. We don't make a profit. On anything."

G.R.1.: "Why are you being so secretive about how much profit you make on abortions?!"

C.R.: "I'm not being secretive. We gave you copies of all of our financial statements already. We don't make a profit."

G.R.1.: "Look at this chart I found that shows how many abortions you do and how many Pap smears you DON'T. Why do you do so many abortions?! I hate abortions!!"

C.R.: "That chart is from an anti-abortion group. And it's not actually a chart."

G.R.1.: "Agree to disagree."

Generic Democrat 1: "I'm so sorry my idiot colleagues are being such assholes. We all know this is a charade."

C.R.: "Thanks. You rock."

Generic Republican 2: "You're a horrible person. I don't know how you sleep at night. I have grand-kids you know. Why do you want to kill my grand-kids?!."

C.R.: "I don't."

G.R.2.: "Yeah right, you just LOVE murdering grand-babies. And while we're on the subject, why should taxpayers have to pay for your abortions?"

C.R.: "They don't. Federal tax money can't go to abortion. You know this."

G.R.2.: "But you're doing it anyway, right?"

C.R.: "No."

Generic Democrat 2: "We're all so sorry these pricks are being such pricks. Seems like we could be doing something better with our time."

C.R.: "Probably."

Generic Republican 3: "Why aren't you giving people more mammograms? My mom had breast cancer, so I love mammograms. How many of those do you do?"

C.R.: "We've actually never done mammograms at Planned Parenthood. We don't have radiology facilities. We do breast exams, and refer people who need mammograms to radiology clinics. Just like every other doctor in the world."

G.R.3.: "But you 'claim' to do breast exams."

C.R.: "Actually, breast exams and mammograms are two different things."

G.R.3.: "Ha! So you ADMIT that you don't do mammograms!?"

C.R.: "Yup, you got me."

Generic Democrat 3: "Seriously though, I am SO sorry about this."

Generic Republican 4: "Ms. Richards, can you please explain to me why you 'claim' to do breast exams, when your reports show that you don't seem to do ANY mammograms?"

C.R.: "Jesus Christ. Did we not just go through this?"

G.R.4.: "I'm just trying to figure out why y'all think you're so great over there at 'Planned Parenthood' when you obviously aren't doing any of the mammograms you claim to be doing. I mean, if you 'care' about women so much, why are you letting them all die from breast cancer?!"

C.R.: <look of disbelief>

Generic Democrat 4: "I just can't even believe this shit."

Generic Republican 5: "Ms. Richards, did you know that my wife is a nurse? She's a woman. And she's pro-life. BOOM! There goes your stupid idea about women wanting choices."

C.R.: "That's great. Life is about choices. Your wife is free to believe whatever she wants to."

G.R.5.: "Have you heard the good news about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Don't you know he hates abortions? Why can't you just stop it with the abortions?! STOP IT!!! NOW!!!

C.R.: "Uuuummmmm. . . ."

Generic Democrat 5: <shakes head in sad and hopeless manner>

Generic Republican 6: "Can we go back to this mammogram issue?"

Like, 60 hours later. . . . 

Generic Republican 17: "I still don't understand why y'all are lying about the mammograms."

Generic Democrat 16: "I can't believe we're still here."

Generic Republican 18: "Let's go back to the chart we saw earlier."

C.R.: "Still not accurate, and still not a chart."

G.R.18.: "I want to know why your Pap smear numbers are going down while your abortion numbers are going up. It's because you just love doing abortions way more and are refusing to give women Pap smears, right?"

C.R.: "Actually, it's because the medical guidelines have changed so that most women only need a Pap smear every three years instead of every one year. It's science."

G.R.18.: "But that doesn't account for the number of Pap smears going down."

C.R.: "Actually, it does."

G.R.18.: "Nuh uh. You're probably just refusing to give women their Pap smears so you can free up more time for abortions. You're probably keeping women from getting Pap smears just like you're denying them mammograms. Have I mentioned what a horrible person you are?"

C.R.: "Yes, you have. Thank you."

Generic Democrat 17: "For the love of God. Is this really happening?"

Generic Republican 19: "Madam, I don't know how you sleep at night. I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but you are the scum on the bottom of the devil's shoes. I wish we could still burn sinners like you alive. In fact, I'm authoring a bill to do just that as we speak. Not only do you cut up babies into tiny pieces, which I know for a fact because I heard there was a video of it, but you also have the audacity to deny women desperately needed mammograms. How dare you madam? How dare you?"

C.R.: "Was that a question?"

Generic Republican 20: "It has come to my attention that you have a higher salary than I do. I'm a Congressman. And a man! And I'm white!! How is that fair?! If you really cared about women like you claim to, you'd take all that fancy money that you spend on shoes and lipstick and use it to give women mammograms! The nerve of some people!!"

Generic Republican 21: "Can you tell me why you only give money to Democrats? I mean, Republicans like money too. Seems pretty partisan to me. Super unfair. Are you involved in some sort of conspiracy with the Democrat Party? You are, right? Why should the taxpayers give you all this money for abortions when you just turn around and give it all to the goddamned Democrats?! Huh? Explain that!!"

C.R.: "Again, taxpayers don't pay for abortions, and we'd be happy to give money to any Republicans who support a woman's right to choose. Unfortunately, they don't seem to exist."

Generic Republican 22: "Can we just get back to why you do SO MANY abortions and SO FEW mammograms??!!"

Generic Republican 23: "I still want to know why you're being so dodgy about how few Pap smears you do. Is it because you use all that taxpayer money for abortions instead?! Huh? HUH??!!"

Like, 127 hours later. . . 

Generic Democrat 23: "Well, I think we can all agree that we've learned nothing useful here today. You're welcome taxpayers.


NOTE: The above was a piece of satire. The actual hearing was about a million times more ridiculous. You can watch it here if you want your brain to melt permanently.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Congressional Sideshow

I've just spent a few hours listening to the clusterfuck that was today's House Judiciary Committee hearings on de-funding Planned Parenthood.  I can't even attempt to clarify all of my thoughts on the horror show I just witnessed, so I think I'll just go into a free-form rant.

What the fuck Congress?!

Really?! There's NOTHING more pressing to the country than putting on a 3-ring circus to trot out every tired old stereotype about abortion and Planned Parenthood?

There were four witnesses at this hearing. Three were "pro-life," and one was "pro-choice." So that's definitely fair. Not a single one of the four was actually any sort of medical expert, and not a single one had any actual affiliation with Planned Parenthood.  In fact, Planned Parenthood wasn't even invited to defend themselves!

Let's be clear. The government does not just hand over a stack of cash to Planned Parenthood every year. When they talk about "de-funding" Planned Parenthood, what they're actually talking about is just excluding people who are on Medicaid from using Planned Parenthood as their provider, and preventing Planned Parenthood from using Title X birth control funding from going to underwrite birth control expenses for Planned Parenthood patients (not abortion!). Federal money already doesn't go to abortion due to the stupid fucking Hyde Amendment.

Two of the witnesses were "abortion survivors." People who were the product of a "botched abortion." While they had heartfelt stories to tell, they had no actual understanding of what Planned Parenthood actually does; they were just there because they want to end abortion. They were trotted out as props of the anti-choice movement. Their quarrel isn't necessarily with Planned Parenthood, but with abortion in general. Abortion is already legal. End of story. So what the fuck is this even about?!

And Jesus Christ, if I had a nickel for every mention of God in this proceeding, I'd finally be a rich blogger! Is this how we legislate now? My religious feelings were hurt, so let's make it illegal? Oh yeah, I forgot, that IS how we legislate now. The religious sentiments of the minority now outweigh the rights of the majority.

And this whole "I don't want my tax dollars to fund abortion" shtick is getting just a little bit nauseating. You know what I don't want MY tax dollars going to? Crisis pregnancy centers, fighting never ending wars in the Middle East, tax breaks to corporations, need I go on? But guess what, our tax system is not รก la carte. None of us get to pick and choose what our taxes do and don't fund, except through the system by which we elect representatives. and from the Republican crop of Congressmen I just saw, we're not doing a very good job at that

All this hearing did was allow a bunch a biblical literalist blowhards to pontificate on their poor hurt feelings over the fact that their precious tax dollars go to an organization they don't agree with. An organization, to be clear, which PREVENTS more abortions than ANY other single organization in the country! What in the hell do they not get about the link between low cost birth control and preventing abortion??!!

No wonder people hate politics when this is what we have to work with! The rank stupidity and lack of ability to comprehend nuance is just gross. I get why anti-abortion advocates don't like abortion. It's easy to understand because it doesn't require any sort of thoughtful reflection. Abortion = murder, God says so, end of story. I get that. What I don't get is their willful ignorance to even attempt to understand why bodily autonomy might be important to women! I realize it requires more than a modicum of thinking to wrap your brain around, but could they at least give it a try sometime?!

I just can't. I'm so sick of this shit. We have totally given up on rationality and evidence based discussion and given in to pandering of the most sickening kind. I think I'm going to need a month long break from the media after this. If you want to watch this appalling shit show for yourself, which I would not recommend, you can do so here.  But seriously, do yourself a favor and watch cute kitten videos instead.

P.S. - If you want to hear a more thoughtful and less profane version of my thoughts on this, listen to my recent interview on the Sober Atheist podcast.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Clown Car Politics

I haven't written a post in quite some time; mainly because I have children and a job. But my favorite uncle gave me some grief about my noticeable absence at our annual family reunion, so I decided to take the 5 minutes and find something to write about.



Donald Trump?


What the fu. . . .

He said what?!


Raping who?


I don't get it.

No, seriously, I don't get it.

Just why?!

Wait, I'm finding sympathy for Megyn Kelly somehow?

How did this happen?!

Seriously America?

Please stop.

I mean it.

Oh, and stop it with the other 6,000 idiot Republican candidates too. They're all horrible.

Except John Kasich. I at least probably wouldn't have to move to Sweden if he were somehow miraculously elected.

The end.

Friday, March 13, 2015

On Cloud Nine

I am positively ecstatic this morning! A few days ago, I submitted a piece for the local paper to use as a "guest editorial." After a few days, I had given up hope that it would make it through the conservative editorial staff, but this morning, I woke up to an email from the Freedom From Religion Foundation asking permission to reprint my letter in their national newsletter. I quickly went to the local paper's website, and there it was. I couldn't be happier. Not only that they published it, and that it might get some national attention, but that it means other atheists and freethinkers in my small town now know that they are not alone, and that there is a community waiting for them. Here is the text of the letter:

"I recently read a guest opinion piece that seemed to make the case for religion as a necessary tool for moral behavior. As an atheist, I often hear that there can be no morality without the absolutes of the Bible (or any other holy book). However, I've found that morality can be quite easily boiled down to one simple piece of guidance, which is commonly referred to as "the golden rule." 
While the phrase "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" can be found in some form in the Bible, I'm confident that we as a species could have figured this one out on our own. It's really quite simple. Why, as an atheist, don't I run around murdering people? Because I have no desire to do so, and even if I did, I am equipped with empathy and can understand how that action would hurt someone else. Why don't I go around driving my car at 100 miles per hour when I feel like it? Because I'm aware of the danger that puts not only myself in, but my fellow humans as well should I happen to crash. 
I have had no trouble raising children without the mandates of any religion. They are simply taught to use the empathy and compassion they were born with to treat other people with respect and kindness. If they wouldn't like someone hitting them with a stick, then why would they go around hitting someone else with one? It's not a terribly difficult concept to understand, even for children. In fact, when I look around at the world today, I see a direct correlation between the people committing the worst atrocities against humanity, and religion. 
I get together regularly with a group of atheists, agnostics, and "freethinkers" as some people prefer to call themselves, and they are some of the kindest, most generous people I've ever had the privilege of knowing. And the interesting thing is, they aren't "good" because they are trying to earn their way to heaven, or win favor with a deity. They are good because they genuinely care about their fellow human beings, and want what's best for everyone. We have evolved as a species to care about each other. It's the only way we can survive. If we didn't have that sense of built in empathy, we would have become extinct long ago. 
I think it's far nobler a pursuit to really wrestle together with questions of ethics, than to evade our responsibility and just parrot edicts that were written down thousands of years ago. It's too easy to not have to really think about the consequences of our actions when we can just point to a book and say "but God said so." In no other realm of understanding is faith seen as a good way of knowing anything about the universe. We don't understand math because we take it on faith. So why should we stop wondering at the many mysteries the universe still has for us to find answers to? Leaving it to faith is giving up, and deciding that we don't need to seek any further understanding of our lives. In my opinion, that stance does not get us any further as a species. It only leaves us standing still; unable to progress and make life better for everyone."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ode to Humanity

It's easy to get down on living in a small town. Not much to do, limited options, and LOTS of Republicans to deal with. But yesterday, I had the kind of day that reminded me that it also has its perks.

I went to the tiny mall to get some earrings, and ran into a friend from high school who I now keep up with on Facebook. She just got a job at the local pharmacy I use (when you have Crohn's disease, you take a lot of meds). We talked for a little bit about our kids and the local schools, and I was reminded just how much I really like her. She's a very cool person (and she complimented me on my blog the other day at the pharmacy, which always helps). I'm looking forward to getting to know her again.

After the mall, I headed to Target to get the usual supply of make up, snacks and interesting clearanced out items that I don't actually need. At the checkout, there was an older woman behind me who got very excited when she found a DVD of The Hunger Games at the checkout. The man she was with started teasing her about liking it, and I piped in about how much I loved it too. We had a nice little moment discussing how, yes, we know it's supposed to be for teenagers, but it's still really good.

While I was checking out, a new friend of mine who works at Target stopped over to say "hi." She has attended get togethers for my atheist group a few times, and is one of those people who just immediately makes you smile, because she's always smiling too. We also shared a nice little moment bonding over our shared love of Peeps marshmallow treats. Because seriously, if you don't love Peeps, there's just something wrong with you.

After Target, it was time for my monthly coffee meet up with my atheist group. The group started small a few years ago, and has grown beyond my wildest dreams since then. I have met some of the most caring, funny, kind and generous people through this group, and I'm reminded every time we get together how lucky I am to count them as my friends. We had two new people join us (a mother and daughter), and they just instantly connected with the rest of the group. When atheists and liberals find each other in a small town, it's a beautiful thing.

Don't get me wrong; there are things I hate about living here too (way too much nature for starters). But I was reminded yesterday that I have such a great family, great neighbors, and so many great people around me who enrich my life all of the time. I would say I was blessed, if I actually believed there was anyone doing the blessing. :-)

Friday, February 20, 2015

In Which I Weigh in on Vaccines and Then Duck

Vaccinations have become a hot topic of late, and since they are apparently now a political issue, I feel the need to put in my "official" two cents. I'm hesitant to do this, because I have good friends and close relatives who are anti-vax, and I really don't want to offend or hurt them. But I'm putting this out there anyway, and am going to let the chips fall where they may.

I have two kids. Both have received every vaccination suggested by their pediatrician, a man who I respect and trust. He went to medical school, and he keeps up on the latest medical research, something I cannot do because I am not a trained pediatrician, and have no skill in deciphering medical studies and research. Therefore, when my kids are sick, I take them to see the doctor, and he tells me what the best course of action is. He always takes into account my input as a parent, since clearly I know my kids better than he does, but I'm willing to take his word that "medicine A" will help with "illness B."  I've never once felt like he was jumping too quickly to a pharmaceutical solution when one wasn't warranted, and he's never pressured me to use any medication on my children.

I once asked him about the vaccination debate, (just out of curiosity - I wasn't trying to make a decision either way for my kids, as they had already gotten their shots). This is what he told me: "If there were any danger to giving kids vaccinations, and I was only doing it to make money for myself and a drug company, then I would just give them to other kids and not my own. But honestly, vaccinations are not a money making proposition, for doctors at least. In fact, we generally break even or take a loss on them. But really, why would I give them to my own kids if I had any question at all about the safety? I would just give them to other people's kids and rake in the dough."

Now, obviously this is just one doctor's take on the issue. He can't speak for the whole of the medical community. But still, it makes sense. He has a son the same age as mine, and I trust that he's confident enough in what he's giving his own son, so I don't worry about him doing the same with my son. He's just more knowledgeable than I am on the subject, period. And no amount of Googling is going to earn me a medical degree.

The reason I think this is such a tough issue for many people is that the pharmaceutical industry certainly hasn't given anyone any reason to trust them. Do they do shady shit for the sake of profits? Definitely. Are people in America over-medicating themselves? Probably. Do drug reps trade free lunches for the chance to get doctors prescribing their products? For sure. I used to work at a clinic, and the free lunches were the best part of the job.

But does any of that mean that vaccines aren't safe and effective? No. How do we know this? Scientific evidence. Why should we trust scientific evidence? Because of the scientific method. Why should we trust the scientific method? Because it's been proven time and again to work. The science on vaccines is not unclear. Vaccines have been studied, and studied, and studied. And while there is always a small risk with any medication, there is a much bigger risk to NOT getting vaccinated.

My generation has been lucky in the area of infant mortality (at least in America). These days we don't just expect at least 1 or 2 of our kids to die from a routine illness like measles or small pox. We don't have to watch our communities be decimated by influenza. We haven't been traumatized by a child getting polio, like my grandmother was with my uncle. We take it for granted that our kids will, for the most part, be healthy and stay alive to reach the terrible twos (with a few horribly tragic exceptions, obviously). I don't even have to watch my kids suffer through the painful scratching I had to endure with the chicken pox, because now we can vaccinate against that too. In fact, my kids are pretty dang healthy.  You would expect that if having all of those vaccinations had somehow ruined their immature immune systems, that they would be catching every illness that came knocking on our door, but no, with the exception of some constipation issues, my kids have been able to fend off virtually anything. Of course, this is just "anecdotal evidence" which shouldn't really be taken to mean anything, but still, you get my point.

At the heart of the anti-vax debate are parents who truly believe they are doing what is best for their children. For whatever reason, they feel that vaccinating might harm their child somehow, and I can understand that. No parent wants to gamble with their children's health and well being. But part of the problem, as I see it, is the view that MY children are the only thing that matters. As parents, the view that all of our parenting decisions should be sacrosanct and autonomous, and that we always just "know" what's best for our own child, ignores the fact that our children are part of a society, and yes, even a "herd."

Which brings me to my neighbor. She has a son, Cole, who is roughly the same age as my youngest. They are BFF's, and during the summer, they have the run of the neighborhood, playing together all day long. It's really very sweet. But Cole has a variety of health issues, which prevent him from getting certain vaccines, and which cause him to pick up EVERY bug that travels within 10 yards of him. My neighbor has to be very careful about keeping her house free of germs, and if my kids are at all sick, Cole can't come over and play. She is relying on me to vaccinate my kids, so that her son doesn't get the measles (or anything worse). She is like many parents out there with children of kids (and babies who are too young to get vaccinated), who are relying on YOU to do your part and get your kids their vaccinations, if at all possible.

Women in other parts of the world will walk for days to get their kids to a vaccination clinic, because they've seen firsthand the devastation of losing a child to a preventable illness. While (mostly upper class white) people in America debate and pontificate over the idea  that you're poisoning your baby with *GASP* chemicals (ignoring the fact that everything on the planet is made out of chemicals), women in poorer parts of the world are just trying to keep their babies from dying.

I'm not even going to touch the autism issue, because the link between vaccines and autism is just not there. Case closed. No more debate needed.  And even if it did, autism is not worse than dying.  I can't even imagine how offensive it is to people who are actually on the spectrum to hear that the mere thought of someone's child being like them is worth risking their life over. I'm not trying to downplay the devastation autism can cause for families, but I hold to my belief that a child with autism is better than a child who is dead. And that's only if there were a link, which there's not, so again, case closed.

But like I said, I have close friends and relatives who choose not to vaccinate, and despite our different feelings on this issue, I still love them and think they are great parents. I think we're ALL trying to do what is best for our kids, and fighting with them won't really help anything. They are right to have questions about how the environment around them affects their kids, and we should all have some healthy skepticism about the things we feed and inject into children. Autism IS on the rise, and there ARE more food allergies today, and processed food IS worse for you than fresh vegetables. Overuse of antibiotics IS something we should be looking at more closely, and pharmaceutical companies ARE pretty horrible in some of their tactics.

But the vaccine debate doesn't need to be had. It's over. And there are real world consequences to not getting your child or yourself vaccinated. And those consequences affect other people's kids. Which is why this is such an emotional topic. But turning it into a political issue only muddies the waters even more. This should not be a Democrat vs Republican issue. Mainly because there are not 2 sides to science. Do I think we should require parents to vaccinate under penalty of law? That seems a little creepy even to a commie lefty like me. But do I think you should be required to vaccinate your kids if you want them in the public school system? Yes. No exceptions. I think that granting religious and philosophical exceptions to vaccinations is stupid, because science doesn't care what your religion or your "deeply held beliefs" have to say about it. And neither does Cole, who just doesn't want to be sick all of the time.

So there you have it. Take it for what it's worth. I'm not an expert and I would never claim to be, but there are experts in the world, and I take my advice from them, not the Internet.


P.S. And I have one more beef with this whole issue: the idea that alternative medicines are not about profit like those big evil pharmaceutical companies. I used to own an allergen-free food store, and the companies we ordered from also sold alternative medicines and vitamins, and let me tell ya, there is a LOT of profit to be made in the "all-natural" industry. The difference of course is that there is actual science to back up the claims of vaccines, and none to back up the claims of the homeopathic tablets that cost you $30 a bottle.